Ahaath Sholom’s Bloom to help Fort Worth police force
By Rick Press
Special to TJP
In December 2016, Jacqueline Craig called the Fort Worth police because she believed her son had been assaulted by a neighbor. She was expecting the officer who arrived at the scene to serve and protect her family.
Instead, officer William Martin questioned Craig’s parenting skills, insulted her and forcibly arrested the African-American mother and her two daughters.
The entire incident was caught on cellphone video, and quickly went viral, laying bare what many in Fort Worth have long suggested is a racial divide in their community, particularly when it comes to police relations.
The fallout has been swift and steady, and Mayor Betsy Price, Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald and the city council have been criticized for their handling of the case. In the ensuing months, they have been searching for a sustained way to address the protests and ongoing concerns about race relations in Fort Worth.
On Friday, the city’s new Race and Culture Task Force will meet for the first time, charged with a mission of bridging the “divides within our community,” said Rabbi Andrew Bloom of Congregation Ahavath Sholom, one of the co-chairs of the 23-member committee.
“This is a watershed moment for Fort Worth,” Bloom said in an email. “We will be able to enhance our city as an example of inclusion we can all be proud of.”
Bloom has served on the mayor’s faith-based cabinet the last five years, and he says it’s an honor to be chosen as a co-chair on the new task force. He will be joined by fellow co-chairs Bob Ray Sanders of the Fort Worth Metropolitan Black Chamber of Commerce; Rosa Navejar, owner of the Rios Group; and Lillie Biggins, president of Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth. Together they formed a task force made up of 12 women and 11 men, chosen from a group of about 150 people who volunteered or were nominated. Robert Goldberg, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Fort Worth, is also a member of the task force.
Some of the members have been harsh critics of the city in the wake of the Jacqueline Craig arrest, but Sanders, a former outspoken columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, said it is essential their voices be heard.
“This (task force) can’t just be an appeasement of the people who show up in protest at a council meeting,” Sanders said. “We picked task force members without interference from the council, including Bishop Mark Kirkland (of Greater St. Mark Ministries in Fort Worth) who has called people out by name. But that voice and that position needed to be represented.”
Bloom agrees that “the biggest challenge is to remain communally focused on ensuring that every voice is heard.”
Meetings, including the task force’s first Friday at 7:30 a.m. at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT), will be open to the public. The initial meetings will be followed by community “conversations on how to build a more inclusive Fort Worth,” Bloom said.
Sanders, who has been a leading advocate for the black community in Fort Worth for more than 40 years, believes the city has an opportunity to cultivate real change, but he says it won’t be easy.
“Fort Worth has been complacent and tried to make itself believe we didn’t have the problems that other cities have,” he said. “We have finally recognized we have an issue, and we’re gonna say it loud, and we’re going to try to deal with it out in the open.”
He knows the task force will face some opposition.
“As we get into the various issues, whether it’s police community relations, economics or education, I anticipate we’ll have some opposition,” he said. “It’s up to us that we hold true to the mission, and not betray it. And make sure the council is true to its word in getting out of the way.”
He said at the end of a year, the task force will present some actionable recommendations that could change policy and procedures in Fort Worth.
“This could be groundbreaking,” Sanders added, “if we do it right.”
Bloom is optimistic, and said his participation on the task force fits perfectly with his synagogue’s mission.
“In Judaism we have always placed a value on, and worked toward Tikkun Olam. My participation and that of the Jewish community on the Task Force is another path toward helping make our world a better place,” he said. “Congregation Ahavath Sholom has been in Fort Worth for 125 years and we have always played an integral role as part of the city, and I see this as a step forward in that progression.”